MMR: Author Talk at Moon Milk Review: Ian Watson

Ian Watson wrote the screen story for Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, based on almost a year’s work with Stanley Kubrick.  His most recent books are The Beloved of My Beloved, a volume of transgressive and funny stories in collaboration with Italian surrealist Roberto Quaglia, perhaps the only full-length genre fiction by two authors with different mother tongues (a story from which, “The Beloved Time of Their Lives,” won the British Science Fiction Association Award for short fiction, Easter 2010), and the erotic satire Orgasmachine, first begun almost 40 years ago but only available until now in Japanese; both from NewCon Press. Read more at Ian Watson.

“I usually write in order to have a transformative impact on people’s minds as well as to entertain…”

MMR: Could you speak a little on your experiences with A.I. Artifical Intelligence and working with Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Spielberg?

IW: In fact I only worked with Stanley himself (for about 9 months, with a couple of subsequent short recalls about a year apart).  After Stanley died, Spielberg went through the existing material, including not only my screen story but all the scenes I’d written for Stanley from which I finally extracted the screen story—and these included stuff which Stanley had instructed me not to put in the screen story, perhaps principally the Flesh Fair (the violent carnival of destruction of robots), of which I’d done several versions and which fortunately Spielberg restored to the story.  Another important thing which Spielberg did was to restore my Gigolo Joe to full eloquence again.  Stanley forever insisted that Joe and other robots should talk very simply, rather like Peter Sellars in Being There; so, if my Joe started to sound too bright or witty, Stanley would slap this down.  

Spielberg never actually communicated with me at all because there was no reason to.  With A.I. he was writing his first SF screenplay since E.T., based on my material, and I think he may have hoped for an Oscar nomination, although in the event this never happened.  Worldwide, A.I. was very successful (and the 4th highest earner of the year—worldwide) but it didn’t do quite so well in America, because the film, so I’m told, was too poetical and intellectual in general for American tastes.   Plus, quite a few critics in America misunderstood the film, thinking for instance that the Giacometti-style beings in the final 20 minutes were aliens (whereas they were robots of the future who had evolved themselves from the robots in the earlier part of the film) and also thinking that the final 20 minutes were a sentimental addition by Spielberg, whereas those scenes were exactly what I wrote for Stanley and exactly what he wanted, filmed faithfully by Spielberg.  As for sentimentality, the ending is in fact very bleak.  After one perfect day with his recreated mother, the little robot boy will never ever see her again no matter how long he exists.  Stanley hoped during his life that Spielberg might direct A.I. because he wanted the film to be a scientific fairy tale, and Spielberg has the fairy tale touch, but authentic fairy tales may have tragic endings rather than happy-ever-after.  No happy-ever-after here!  Alone-ever-after, on the contrary.